Sunday, February 7, 2010

Social Studies Review: Middle School Column 2010

A Broadside View of Declaration of Independence

By George Sabato


     Did you know the original Declaration of Independence no longer exists?  That’s right!  The President and Secretary of the Continental Congress, John Hancock and Charles Thompson, were the only signers of the original Declaration of Independence!  This first copy has been lost. 

Did you know t the Declaration of Independence was created by the work of a committee?  The Continental Congress formed a committee to draft a declaration of independence as a follow-up to the resolution presented on June 7 by Richard Henry Lee which proposed that the colonies declare their independence from the British.  June 11, 1776, the Continental Congress selected Thomas Jefferson as its first member.  John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert R. Livingston, and Roger Sherman were also appointed to the committee.  This committee selected Thomas Jefferson to create the first draft which Benjamin Franklin and John Adams reviewed and edited and submitted to the Continental Congress.  The Continental Congress then made numerous deletions and changes to the draft presented by the committee.

Did you know the colonies declared independence on July 2?  This is the day John Adams thought our Nation would be celebrating for centuries to come, for on July 2 the Continental Congress passed the resolution presented on June 11 by Richard Henry Lee.  It passed with a 12-0 vote.  After this vote, the draft of the Declaration of Independence was presented by the committee, debated, edited and passed by a 12-0 vote on July 4 and New York ratified on July 6, 1776.

Do you know how many copies of the Declaration of Independence were made?  John Dunlap was given the task of printing 200 broadside copies, signed in print only by Jefferson and Thompson.  These copies were distributed to members of the Continental Congress.  Copies were then dispersed to appropriate people in the colonies informing them of the action taken by the Continental Congress.  Theses copies were read in churches and posted on walls across the land.  King George only received a broadside copy as his notification that his colonies had declared their freedom from the British Crown. 

Do you know how many copies of the broadsides exist today?  Of the original 200 copies, only 25 are known to exist.  One copy recently sold for $8 million at auction.  This copy will be on display at the California Council for the Social Studies Conference on March 5, 2010 in Pasadena.  Norman Lear and his wife Lyn, purchased the copy in 2000 for $8.1 million.  They created the non-profit youth voter registration organization, Declare Yourself, which has partnered with The Pearson Foundation to take the document across the Nation thus bringing “the people’s document” directly to the American people.

What is the document on display in Washington, D.C. that we know as the “original” Declaration of Independence?  The Continental Congress decided to make a parchment copy featuring the signatures of 56 members of the Continental Congress.  Prominently featured at the center was the signature of the Continental Congress’ President, John Hancock. 

Who was the first President of our Nation?  Some would argue that John Hancock has earned that honor by being President of the Continental Congress at the time independence was declared.

It has been argued, however, that our Nation came into existence on a variety of dates other than that of the date of our Declaration of Independence.  This could be a great opportunity for students to research and debate.  Some of the proposed dates are presented at*.  On this site there is a great video of students presenting their arguments for a variety of “birthdays” of our country.

Which of the following dates should be considered as our Nation’s birthday?*

September 4, 1774 - Continental Congress first caucuses in the City Tavern of Philadelphia.

September 5, 1774 - Continental Congress officially convenes for the first time in Carpenters Hall.

October 20, 1774 - Continental Congress passes the Articles of Association.

July 6, 1775 - Continental Congress Approves "Declaration on Taking Arms” or “Declares War” against Great Britain.

July 2, 1776 - Twelve Colonies declare their Independence from Great Britain - "Free & Independent States".

July 4, 1776 - Twelve Colonies approve the Declaration of Independence 

July 9, 1776 - New York approves the now “Unanimous” Declaration of Independence. 

November 15, 1777 – Continental Congress passes the Articles of Confederation but requires ratification by all 13 States. 

February 2, 1781 - Maryland, the last State, finally agrees to ratify the Articles of Confederation.

March 1, 1781 - Articles of Confederation is ratified by all 13 States and the Continental Congress is dissolved and replaced with the new constitutional government called the United States in Congress assembled.     

September 3, 1783 - Treaty of Paris ending the war with Great Britain is signed by the Peace Commissioners.

January 14, 1784 - Treaty of Paris is ratified by President Thomas Mifflin and the USCA.

April 9, 1784 - Treaty of Paris is ratified by King George III and Parliament.

September 17, 1787 - 12 States approve the current U.S. Constitution and Convention President, George Washington, who transmits it to Arthur St. Clair, President of the United States in Congress Assembled (USCA) in New York.

September 28, 1787 – USCA ends debate on the new US Constitution and resolves unanimously to send it on to the States unaltered.

June 21, 1788 - New Hampshire becomes the ninth State to ratify, meeting 2/3rds requirement set forth in the new constitution and agreed to by USCA.

July 2, 1788 - USCA certifies the ninth State’s ratification and establishes a transition committee to dissolve the confederation and form the new Republic of the United States of America.  

March 4, 1789 – USCA resolves that on this date the Confederation is dissolved and the new U.S. Republic is born.

April 1, 1789 - U.S. House of Representatives achieves a quorum. 

April 6, 1789 - U.S. Senate achieves a quorum.

April 30, 1789 - George Washington is inaugurated as U.S. President.

February 2, 1790 – U.S. Supreme Court Convenes with Chief Justice John Jay presiding.

May 29, 1790 – Rhode Island becomes the 13th State to ratify the current U.S. Constitution, thus meeting the constitution’s unanimous requirement as set forth in the Articles of Confederation.

                As eighth graders begin their school year you might consider having the class reviews the work of the Founding Fathers that they studied in the 5th grade.   Divide the class into small groups.  Each group would research and debate why one of the dates above should be the true birthday of our country. 

                A review of the creation of the Declaration of Independence creates an opportunity to see how an original draft of legislation is debated and amended as it matures into a formal form.  For example, the language drafted by Thomas Jefferson about slavery was deleted by the Continental Congress from the document.  As the Congress today drafts and debates legislation students can follow changes made as it moved to the President’s desk for signature.  A good case to follow would be health care legislation.


                Below, find a selection of online videos and web sites supporting the study of the Declaration of Independence. 


Stephen Klos reveals how the original Declaration of Independence was created at the Continental Congress.   Did you know that the original (and lost) copy of the Declaration of Independence was signed only by the President and Secretary of the Continental Congress?  He explains how the broadside copies of the document were printed dispersed.  Only 25 out of the original 500 printed by John Dunlap broadsides exist today!  View one of the remaining copies printed by William J. Stone under the direction of Secretary of State John Quincy Adams.

Morgan Freeman gives a brief history of the Declaration of Independence and introduces a choral reading by a cast of major Hollywood actors including Mel Gibson, Renee Zellweger, Whoopi Goldberg, Michael Douglas…

This scene shows Congress voting and approving the Declaration of Independence.  View a brilliant scene showing the reading of the Declaration of Independence in pubic is shared from John Adams mini-series.

View a re-enactment of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson collaborating to edit the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia. A Funny Historical Skit on the Happy Birthdays of the USA .  When is the birthday of the United States of America? July 4th, 1776 any first grader would answer. Not so, imagine a secret Hippie beginning that ...



See Thomas Jefferson's original draft of Declaration of Independence showing the deletions and changes made by the Continental Congress.

Charters of Freedom:  Information and images on several important historical American documents including the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights.

Primary Documents in American History—Library of Congress presents the Declaration of Independence.

The “People’s Document” comes thanks to the Pearson Foundation.

View a copy of a broadside:


Online Lessons and Activities for teaching about the Declaration of Independence

Edsitement:  Declare the Causes: The Declaration of Independence

Activities, vocabulary and more at offers “The Declaration of Independence:  Would you sign it?” lesson and activities.

Winter 2009 Teaching with Primary Sources Newsletter Learning Activity – Elementary Level

 The Declaration of Independence: Differentiated Learning Activity – Online lesson and activity with printable documents.

Ben’s Guide to the U.S. Government:  Declaration of Independence features a comprehensive history of the Declaration of Independence, and links to the writers’ biographies and a full transcript.

New Jersey State Library presents class and independent study projects.

Pelican Publishing Company offers language arts, math, art and physical education activities to help learn about the Declaration of Independence.

NOVA Saving National Treasures offers an activity in which students explore preserving an historical document.

Teaching American History: Declaration of Independence Classroom 1:  Visit a classroom in which students are examining a primary source document, the Declaration of Independence.

The Social Studies Review is the journal of the California Council for the Social Studies.


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